By Dr. Laurie Steelsmith
Special to The Advertiser
Jan, my 48-year-old patient from Hawaii Kai, came to see me because her normal blood pressure of 125/70 had increased significantly to a borderline high blood pressure of 140/90 during the past year. Elevated blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is a major risk factor for both heart disease and stroke.
Jan, whose 72-year-old mother had recently experienced a stroke, wanted to explore options for decreasing her blood pressure naturally. I reassured her that her increased blood pressure could easily be brought under control by lifestyle and dietary changes.
Elevated blood pressure has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. More than 60 million Americans have hypertension, and most take medication to bring their blood pressure down.
Blood pressure is a measurement of the resistance of the blood vessels each time your heart beats.
Systolic pressure (the first number on your blood pressure reading) reflects the amount of pressure in your heart when it beats. Normal systolic blood pressure reads between 90 and 140.
Diastolic pressure (the second number on your blood pressure reading) reflects the amount of pressure found in your blood vessels when your heart beats. Normal diastolic pressure reads between 60 and 90.
What constitutes high blood pressure? A blood pressure reading of 140/90 and above. It is important to have at least three readings, preferably on separate days, to confirm a diagnosis of high blood pressure. Anyone can have a temporary increase in blood pressure due to stress.
What else can increase blood pressure? Smoking, obesity, chronic stress, excess caffeine and the standard American diet, which is high in saturated fats, sodium and sugar, and low in fiber, potassium and essential nutrients.
Licorice can also significantly increase blood pressure. (Beware: Many herbal teas contain licorice, so be sure to check the ingredients listed on the box.)
According to the "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine," written by Joe Pizzorno and Michael Murray (both naturopathic physicians and leaders in the field of natural medicine), people with hypertension should make the following dietary and lifestyle changes to help decrease their high blood pressure. (Of course, you should consult your personal doctor first, before making any changes in diet, medication or exercise.)
Exercise to lose excess weight and to manage stress.
Significantly decrease salt intake (including shoyu and miso).
Eliminate alcohol, caffeine and smoking.
Consume 99 to 300 milligrams of potassium per day from bananas, oranges, tomatoes, legumes, yogurt, poultry and fish.
Increase consumption of garlic and onions.
Eat at least four ribs of celery per day. (Celery contains the compound 3-n-butyl phthalide, which, studies from the University of Chicago Medical Center suggest, lowers blood pressure.)
Reduce or eliminate consumption of animal fat.
Increase intake of omega-3 fats found in fish and flax oils.
Take a good multiple vitamin-mineral with at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 500 to 1,000 milligrams of magnesium.
Take 100 to 150 milligrams of coenzyme Q10 per day.
Take 100 to 250 milligrams of hawthorn berry extract three times per day. (Enzymatic Therapy offers an excellent standardized product that can be found in local health food stores.)
People with severe high blood pressure should take a prescription blood-pressure lowering medication (preferably a calcium channel blocker or an ACE-inhibitor), but lifestyle and dietary changes are also important to improve overall cardiovascular health.
Jan was very happy to find that she could take steps to lower her blood pressure naturally. She started an exercise program, lost 10 pounds and changed her diet and lifestyle according to the suggestions outlined above. She looks great, feels great and, after only four months, her blood pressure is stable at a perfectly normal 125/75.
Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu.
Hawaii experts in traditional medicine, naturopathic medicine, diet and exercise take turns writing the Prescriptions column. Send your questions to: Prescriptions, Ohana Section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; fax 535-8170. This column is not intended to provide medical advice; you should consult your doctor.
[back to top]